There are two more Republican presidential debates left on the schedule — and that is more than enough for party insiders, who fear that the insult-rich clashes are becoming deeply damaging to the GOP's image.
In their minds, Thursday’s debate in Detroit was a nadir. They single out, in particular, the moment when front-runner Donald Trump sought to rebut implied suggestions from rival Marco Rubio that his manhood was inadequate.
The debate also stooped to name-calling, as Trump constantly referred to Rubio on Thursday night as “Little Marco” and labeled his other main rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, “Lying Ted.”
Cruz — no stranger to robust debating tactics himself — asked plaintively at one point, “Is this the debate you want playing out in the general election?”
Magnifying potential problems for the GOP, the most outlandish clashes were highlighted in the following day’s media coverage, even as pundits criticized the tone.
“The voting window is closing and now they are throwing the kitchen sink out there — and that gets extremely messy,” said another Republican strategist, Ford O’Connell. “This is a complete result of these guys ignoring Trump. They failed Political Communications 101 — they allowed Trump to define himself before they defined him.”